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Hairstyles Throughout History Part 2

Nowadays, no trip to the pharmacy is complete without a walk down at least one aisle of hair products. Dozens of companies compete for shelf space, selling shampoos and sprays that 17th Century Wigspromise to lift, hold, curl, straighten, hydrate, and protect. Every brand has multiple options for different types of hair: dry, oily, curly, straight, colored, damaged, flaky, or fine.You can apply mousse, waxes, serums, balms, sprays, and gels to your locks to get virtually any style you can imagine; it’s all very overwhelming!

But next time you find yourself cursing out your curling iron, or frustrated that your fake bed head is just slightly too disheveled, be thankful that you don’t have to deal with some of the crazier hairstyles worn throughout history.

Wigs Everywhere
Last week’s blog post briefly touched on the wig phenomenon in Europe. After the decline of the Roman Empire, wigs had fallen out of public knowledge for nearly a thousand years until their revival in the 16th century; while they helped cover bald spots, wigs also had a practical use: they were much easier to de-louse than natural hair, and the unhygienic conditions of the period meant that it was sometimes easier to just shave one’s head and spare an itchy, uncomfortable infestation. Wigs really took off in the 1700s when King Louis XIV of France began to wear a long curly wig, which had a part in the middle and two very pronounced high points of hair on the forehead. Other men in the court followed suit, as they often did, and wigs became required headgear for any successful man with money. In the late 1600s, elaborate flowing wigs were in high demand, even though they were extremely heavy and uncomfortable to wear.

In the 18th century, men began to powder their wigs white. Women rarely wore full wigs during this time, but they did supplement their own hair with towering coiffure pieces that were powdered grey or light blue. A powdered white head of hair was customarily reserved for older, more distinguished gentlemen, and in 1795 the British government even imposed a tax on wig powder in order to prevent young men from powdering their natural hair in an effort to imitate their elders.

Pouf: The Updo From Hell
Very few modern women can imagine the incredible effort required to maintain a Marie Antoinettefashionable updo in the 1700s in Europe. While modern buns and fancy styles may use a whole package of bobby pins (or two!), it doesn’t hold a candle to the pouf. Although women began wearing their hair high on their heads as early as 1680, the pouf was popularized by Marie Antoinette in 1774. The highly artistic pouf was the ultimate in French extravagance, and often took hours to create. The pouf began with a base of very thin wire and padding, which sat near the forehead and created the desired height and shape on top of the head. The woman’s hair was then wound around and above the structure, intertwined with false hair, and curled into ringlets with hot clay curlers. Once the shaping was done (involving lots of pomade and powder), the pouf would be decorated with ribbons, jewels, and hundreds of different novelty items.

Antoinette reportedly wore a 6-foot high pouf, though height usually topped out at three feet; still, an impressive amount of weight to carry around on one’s head! The pouf would remain in place for roughly a week, then washed and redone. Women with a pouf had to sleep sitting upright to protect their hair, and palace doorways were lengthened to accommodate the fancy court ladies and their towering locks. Needless to say, a few hair pins and some spray is nothing compared to these outrageous masterpieces!